This type of email is typical. People writing to say they would like to set off on a bicycle tour but can’t for any number of reasons.
Now, I don’t know Chris from Vermont’s age. Perhaps he’s pushing 90. Maybe he really is too old for a long-distance bicycle tour. But more likely than not, he just thinks he’s too old. He’s bought into a myth about bicycle touring.
There are all sorts of myths about bicycle touring flying around. Here are a few of my favorites:
Myth 1: Long distance adventure Bicycle Touring is only for the young. Sure we all know granny and gramps can trundle around Europe on bicycles. Pedal 40 kilometers, plop down at a café for a leisurely lunch and then check into a comfy B&B for the night.
But retirees bicycle touring in 3rd world countries? Camping in the wild? Cranking out 100+ kilometers per day. Not possible most would say.
Wrong. Danielle and André, a French couple well into their 60s, passed us up as we were fighting headwinds on our way to Ushuaia. They camp. They ride through developing countries like Peru and Bolivia. And they collect social security. Who says adventure bicycle touring is just for the young?
Myth 2: You must be super-fit to set off on a bicycle tour. Nothing could be further from the truth. If you’ve got two functioning lungs, you can go on a bicycle tour. The beauty of bicycle touring is that you can start out slow and build up gradually. There’s no need to be able to crank out 100 kilometers on your first day. In fact, many bicycle tourists are comfortable puttering along at around 60 kilometers per day.
Myth 3: Bicycle Touring requires a major investment in gear. Nah. That’s just not true. Way back in 2004 when Eric and I set off on our very first bicycle tour, we looked more like a couple of homeless people on bikes than serious cyclists.
I was riding an old Schwinn we’d picked up at a garage sale, Eric had a mountain bike he’d bought back in the 80’s, and instead of sleek-looking Ortlieb panniers, we’d strapped a backpack on the rack.
We were a sight. But it didn’t matter. We made it 767 kilometers through Alsace and had the best vacation ever.
It’s easy to fall prey to all the marketing hype around high-tech gear. Sure, I love my sturdy, long-suffering Koga Miyata. When it rains, I’m thankful for waterproof bicycle bags.
But could I bicycle tour around the world without all the great gear? You bet.
Myth 4: A major long-distance bicycle tour is expensive. Unless you’re keen on walking, Bicycle Touring is the absolute cheapest way to travel. Since we set off in June 2006, our total expenditure has been around $55,000. Total expenditure. Gear, bicycles, airline tickets, insurance, healthcare costs, food, clothing, accommodation, electronics, EVERYTHING.
$55,000 for two people in four and a half years is really not a lot of money. That’s less than the average US family income for one year. And we were travelling.
When you break it down, that’s $500 per month per person. Probably what some of you fork over each month in car payments.
Admittedly, we are rather frugal. There are times when I could do with a little more comfort. But the point is, if you don’t mind camping and couchsurfing, self-catering and keeping an eye on your budget, a long-distance bicycle tour is probably within reach for you.**
Myth 5: You must be ‘tough’ to set off on a bicycle tour. We cyclists like to write a lot about how much we suffer on bicycle tours. We whine about headwinds and climate extremes. We go on and on about steep mountain passes and bone-jarring backroads. We spin tales about cycling through the desert lugging around a week’s water supply.
While there is some truth to all this talk of suffering, a lot is pure hyperbole (the winds in Patagonia excepted).
Bicycle touring can be as comfortable as you want to make it. If you’ve got a generous budget, there are plenty of companies that will organize a tour for you and even arrange for your luggage to be transferred from one destination to the next (check out Biciklo for lots of listings).
Southeast Asia is a popular bicycle touring destination because distances are short, food is delicious and towns with comfortable guest houses are so close together that carrying a tent is optional.
Finally, if you’re not too proud to hop on a truck, suffering is almost always optional, no matter in what part of the world you choose to cycle.
What’s your opinion? Do you agree/disagree with these popular bicycle touring myths? Maybe you’ve got your own myth to add.
**disclaimer “You” refers to the average reader of this blog–an English-speaking individual living in the US or Western Europe. Obviously, for those living in the developing world even $500 is a huge sum of money.